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The Picture Book Buzz

Camouflage Mom - Perfect Picture Book Friday #PPBF

Interweaving threads of camouflage, boots, and family connections throughout the text and the illustrations, this book does a great job of validating the emotions and concerns of any child dealing with a separation, especially those in military families.

Book cover - child holding dad's hand peers between camouflaged legs and black boots.

Camouflage Mom: A Story About Staying Connected

Author: Sarah Hovorka

Illustrator: Elif Balta Parks

Publisher: Cardinal Rule Press

Ages: 5-7


Themes:

Military families, separation, connections, acceptance, family, and loneliness.


Synopsis:

Sarah is happy to finally see her mom after two months of boot camp but she feels a distance between them that’s more than the physical space that separates them. Is that her mom who stares straight ahead in a line of soldiers when Sarah calls out for her? Is that her mom who stomp stomp stomps in big, heavy boots and hides in camouflage clothing? Using the analogy of links in a chain, Camouflage Mom is the story about how Sarah reconnected with her mom after her mom joined the military.


Opening Lines:

The soldiers march like links in a chain,

a blur or green and black, green and black.

STOMP. STOMP. STOMP.


"Where's Mom?" I ask.

"Keep looking," Dad says.


What I LOVED about this book:

When Sarah's mom joined the army, all the ways she connected with her mother - baking and biking "with her hair streaming behind her like a shooting star" - seemed to disappear behind the green and black, chopped hair, and uniformity of her platoon. And worst of all, her Mom's absence feels like "a piece of me is gone," like a link in their family puzzle has gone missing.

Internal spread - on the left, mom in camo is rapelling down a rock face. On the right, the girl is remembering when Mom used to cook and ride her bike.

Text © Sarah Hovorka, 2024. Image © Elif Balta Parks, 2024.


I love Elif Balta Parks' use of contrast in the backgrounds at this point. From the opening to this spread, the backgrounds have been brown and tan, with a few streaks of camo. While Sarah's memories of her mom are colorful and set against a soft teal background. Creating a stark contrast between her 'current mom' and her memories.


Returning home, Sarah tries to find connections (links) to her mom. But neither photos, special dinners, nor her mom's clothes fill the gap for Sarah. Eventually, in an attempt to enliven the silence that permeates her house, Sarah rediscovers the link between herself, her brother, and her dad. As time passes, her pride in her mother's strength and bravery grows, but she still lacks a feeling of connection. Even when she finally tries on the boots.

Internal spread - on the left, spot illustrations of mom ina tank, jumping from a helicopter, and hiding in grass. On the right, the girl sits on her bed trying on the books and missing her mom.

Text © Sarah Hovorka, 2024. Image © Elif Balta Parks, 2024.


Without minimizing Sarah's worries and conflicting emotions, the text and illustrations create a touching ending that merges the aspects of Sarah and her mother's lives and celebrates the special bond between a parent and a child.


Drawn from Sarah Hovorka's own childhood, the book is both poignant and hopeful, honest and helpful, for children experiencing any sort of separation. It doesn't sugar coat Sarah's feelings of loss, 'selfishness' (how can protecting the nation be more important than being with them?), longing, and the ache of loneliness. Helping kids recognize, acknowledge, and face their swirling myriad of emotions.


Resources:

Photo collage showing an example of a deployment wall with a laminated map and chocolate "kisses for dad" in jars.

  • look at the book's reading and discussion suggestions at the front.

  • check out the "Top Tips for Coping With Separation" in the back matter.



If you missed my interview with Sarah Hovorka on Monday, find it (here).


This post is part of a series by authors and KidLit bloggers called Perfect Picture Book Fridays. For more picture book suggestions and resources see Susanna Leonard Hill's Perfect Picture Books.

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Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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